Katya Kovtunovich is one of those people whose energy and enthusiasm for life rubs off on you, and after talking to her you come away invigorated and inspired.
So it’s no surprise that when she walked off the street and into the London offices of fashion bible Vogue, that she left with a solid offer of an internship – which are notoriously difficult to bag.
This was just a few months after landing in the United Kingdom, after travelling there from her childhood home on a remote island in Russia, with just a few hundred dollars in her pocket and a sewing machine in her luggage.
She was a woman with a lifelong dream; to make it big in fashion. And, she has made that dream come true: She’s poured her passion for fashion into her own clothing line and has gone off to Dubai and is heading up her own clothing empire.
What’s especially remarkable about this is that while she is featured across the pages of glossy magazines, Katya sells the majority of her clothes through word of mouth and people seeing their friends wearing the dresses, or through fashionistas seeing them on Katya’s Instagram and emailing her to say that they must have one (or several).
And, with a client base that includes Lady Gaga, Vanessa Hudgens and royals like the uber-stylish Princess Charlene of Monaco, we wanted to talk to Katya – who is fast becoming one of fashion’s rising stars and also happens to speak five languages – to find out more about the self-made woman and entrepreneur’s path to success.
“I grew up on a tiny island in Russia and came to London with just two hundred dollars, a sewing machine and a bag full of clothes that I had made myself,” Katya tells Lumity.
“The customs officials even made me sew on the sewing machine in the airport when I was going through security to show it was real and wasn’t a bomb or stuffed with contraband!” she laughs. “So I did, I sat down and sewed for them! They loved it, ‘hardly anyone knows how to sew these days, and if they do they certainly don’t sit down and start making things in an airport.
“Within two months of arriving in London I had an internship at Vogue magazine. I simply walked into their office and asked; my eyes were so sparkly and I was so excited and enthusiastic that they hired me on the spot.
“People have said to me since, ‘I sent my CV to them and didn’t even hear back’ – but I just walked right in and spoke to someone.
“It was a fabulous experience, I learned from the best of the best and got to know the true high class professional standards for Fashion, Journalism, Styling and Management”.
After her internship, Katya wanted to share what she learned with girls in Russia who did not have the opportunities that she had been lucky to have.
She explains: “I started writing about my fashion experiences for a small magazine in St Petersburg and after two years L’Officiel Russia approached me and a year later I was offered to write for Russian Elle and Vogue.
“I attended global fashion weeks and conducted interviews with the designers and the models in various languages they speak themselves – as I speak five in total. I spoke to Yasmin Le Bon, Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano, Alexander Wang and Isabella Blow, all people that I look up to and admire.
“But whilst it was wonderful interviewing designers, people in the street kept complimenting my hand made clothes that I was wearing, which made me think that I may have another purpose in life waiting for me.
“Back in Russia when I was a child, I went to an expensive school where all the childrens’ families had money, but my family didn’t. I only attended the school because my mother was a teacher there. I started making my own dresses at the age of seven, and I made my own dresses for school and I kind of became famous for that with the other kids at my school because it made me stand out. They’d be wearing designer clothes, but I had something different and unique.
“Growing up, sewing was a way to make my dreams come true. When you have nothing, but you can take a curtain and make it into a fabulous dress, it’s very special and was a way of making life magical and fun.
“I learned back then that if you have one thing that is your talent, it can make you stand out.
“While I was in London, I had an insecurity about becoming a designer as I couldn’t sketch and draw like they all could because I hadn’t been to fashion school.
“But I always wore clothes I had made myself and was often stopped in the street by people asking where I had bought a certain dress, and I would say, ‘You can’t buy it! – I made it myself!’. And, people I knew would beg me to start making them dresses that they could buy and my friends were often telling me that I should start my own label.
“I learned a lot from interviewing all the fashion greats because they’re all risk-takers and finally I made a vow: If twenty more strangers stop me in the street in the next couple of weeks and ask where they can buy my clothes, I will start my own label.
“Twenty people did stop me and so I felt that fate had made the decision for me. I moved to Dubai, started my business here and it has really taken off. I have customers from all over the world and they message me on Instagram or email asking to buy because they’ve seen people wearing them on Instagram. It’s a modern way of doing business and it’s really exciting to be able to engage with customers so easily and hear their thoughts on new designs.
“One of my first collections was featured in Harper’s Bazaar Russia in 2012, and shortly after that, I was visiting a friend who works at Vogue in London. I was wearing a long coat from my own collection, made out of Arabic fabric Sadou which I paired with a fluffy hat.
“A man stopped me on my way out of the building and asked if he could take a photo of me. He turned out to be legendary British photographer, Barry Lategan, who has photographed everybody from ’60s supermodel Twiggy to Margaret Thatcher. It was brilliant and made me really excited and certain that I was doing the right thing and had chosen the right career path – this is my passion so it doesn’t feel like work.
“My clothes have also been featured in fashion magazines like, Bahrain Confidential, and Cosmopolitan’s MINI magazine, Elle, various editions of Vogue and Officiel, and of course I am proud when I see my clothes featured across the pages of the magazines that I used to intern for.
“But what I love most of all is when I receive messages from my clients saying my dress made them feel very special and they received a lot of compliments.
“That is the best feeling in the world – knowing that my dresses are making women happy and full of confidence.
“My advice to anyone with a dream is to follow your heart and be passionate and full of enthusiasm and the rest will follow.”
Katya Kovtunovich official website: www.katyakovtunovich.com
Katya Kovtunovich Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/katyakovtunovich
If you are interested in her dresses you can contact her here.